At the Incarnation, why did the Son of God decide to come to us as a baby? Adam didn’t. Melchizedek appeared out of nowhere. We don’t see John the Baptist until he is a full-grown adult in the desert. But Jesus comes as a baby. Why? Three reasons stand out.
1. God wants our first impression of him to be of someone who does not judge.
Babies do not judge. And babies are not scary. St. Bernard says that “Jesus comes as a little one lest we be terrified.” Like any baby, all the infant Jesus wants is to be loved, and so he presents himself on Earth in the most accessible, approachable form.
Blessed Guerric of Igny assures us that “Jesus much prefers to be loved than to be feared with servility. And so now when he shows himself to mortal men for the first time, he prefers to present himself as a child in order to inspire love rather than fear.” Our Lord well understands how oppressive and debilitating the fear in our life can be, and he is full of compassion for us. So his appearance in the flesh is itself an act of healing. “Jesus comes as a baby,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI, “because he does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness.” Jesus’ transforming mercy appears in the way he himself appears in our midst.
St. Charles de Foucauld imagines Jesus saying:
By becoming so small, so gentle a child, I was crying out to you: Have trust! Come close to me! Do not be afraid of me, come to me, give me what children need: loving embraces. Do not be afraid, do not be so frightened in the presence of such a gentle baby, smiling at you and holding out his arms to you. He is your God, but he is all smiles and gentleness. Do not be afraid.
2. Babies are irresistible.
Being in the presence of a baby brings out the best in us. Notice how when a baby is in the room, even the most gruff, rough, surly person softens. God the Father wants our initial impression of his Incarnate Son to be one that overcomes all our resistance, all our defenses, all our impenetrability. Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus wrote, “In his immense love, Christ the Beloved willed to take the only form capable of reaching the hardest hearts, those hearts most closed in on themselves, most weighed down by guilt and pain, those who would have been broken by his cross or frightened by his majesty.”
Babies fill us with hope and with a sense of purpose. They bring us back to what really matters. When there is a baby there with us, why is it that everyone wants to hold the baby? That closeness with a little one has such a positive, generating effect on us. The intimacy enlightens and delights us. We bill and coo and don’t care who hears us talking baby talk. We want to protect the baby. Our innocence comes alive again. A baby gives us a new lease on life and makes us long to start again. We feel wanted and set free.
Babies possess the unique ability to disarm us of our inhibitions and negativity. Just gazing at a baby floods us with tenderness, gentleness, comfort, newness, peace, joy. We are filled with wonder. We marvel at the gift life is.
A 13th-century Christmas hymn urges us:
Embrace the baby boy
who lies in the crib,
his grace is so great,
whoever seeks will rejoice.
3. Babies are vulnerable.
One of life’s greatest sorrows is dealing with our own weakness, limitation, frailty, and fragility. We wrestle with our inability and want. Jesus comes to us as baby precisely to identify with us in this experience. Who is more vulnerable, needy, and dependent than a baby?
This is Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus again:
Out of the overflowing abundance of his love, Christ, the Son of God, chose to pass through a little infant’s helplessness, the only state in which someone is totally given over into the hands of another. That is how our God first appeared, and he wants to be contemplated and adored in this state. When I look at the crib and the little infant Jesus in the straw, I think to myself that our poverty and our weakness are the very things the Lord desires so that it can be he alone acting through us; we are only the instruments, which he can handle without putting up the least resistance.
Jesus comes as a baby to assure us that we are not alone in our littleness, in our powerlessness, in our neediness. We need to love our lack and enlist it to God’s glory. Pope Benedict XVI explains:
God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby—defenseless and in need of our help. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts, and his will—we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. Let us allow our heart, our soul, and our mind to be touched by this fact!
Meditating on this mystery, Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote:
Small against the cave, people, and animals was the Baby. Yet, immensity, eternity, and all power and glory were contained in his smallness! Let this Christmas be for us a turning point. Let us kill “self.” Let us become small enough to kneel at the crib, and big enough just to reach the level of the Baby’s eyes. Let us then look into them—and catch sight of Love Incarnate! Then we shall be made whole again, and our hunger will be filled.
Going to the baby Jesus in faith and trust is the best thing we can do this Christmas. In the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden, the Blessed Virgin Mary says:
When I was nursing my Son, he was endowed with such great beauty that whoever looked upon him was consoled and relieved of any sorrow they may have had in their heart. And so, many people said one to another, “Let us go to see Mary’s Son, that we may be consoled.”